How to Become an Outstanding Software Developer
Updated: Mar 26
People who code for a living introduce themselves as software developers. They don’t call themselves software coders. They know software development is much more than just coding.
However, most of the developers put all their focus on learning how to code. Within a few years of their career, they get bored doing the same stuff repeatedly. They get frustrated and demotivated as their growth stagnates.
“But neither job switch nor frequently changing the tech stack can help software developers achieve any significant growth in the long term.”
Instead of trying to find out the root cause of their frustration, developers try to switch to a new company thinking it will increase their job satisfaction level. Many try to learn trendy new technologies expecting it to alleviate their problems.
But neither job switch nor frequently changing the tech stack can help software developers achieve any significant growth in the long term.
I am a software developer with more than fifteen years of experience. In this decade and a half years of my journey, I have not only survived but also thrived through multiple recessions.
With my experience, I have learned valuable lessons about the key traits that are needed for a software developer to have outstanding growth in their career.
1. Stick to one tech stack
Coding is the primary requirement to become a developer. It is alright to experiment with various technologies in the initial days of a developer’s career. But as you gain experience, it is prudent to stick to one technology stack and gain in-depth knowledge of it.
The trend in the technological world keeps changing with time. A lot of technologies came and left in the last decade. Many of them were good, but something better came to replace them fast.
Excellent software developers do not fall into the trap of trend-driven development. They don’t try to swing their learning curve based on what gets hyped in the job market. They focus on increasing their expertise in one specific technology stack.
2. Fix defects
Fixing defects in existing code is a great way to learn any product. Reading documentation or getting a knowledge transfer from senior developers can get you started on the functionalities.
But it will help you learn much more when you get your hands dirty by fixing bugs in the existing codebase.
Most skilled developers know they cannot code everything in a project. Hence they help other team members to resolve their issues. Helping others makes them learn about the features in different areas of the product.
I attribute most of my knowledge in our application to fixing defects and helping others resolve issues in their code.
3. Assume customer is always right
“Customer is always right — until you prove them wrong.”
We develop software for customers. Customers know what they want in the product and why they want it. If the software does not fulfill the customer’s requirement, then however fancy the code might be — it is still useless.
Hence, the customer is always right — until you prove them wrong. Listen to the end-user when they raise a concern. Try to understand the problem. Go back to your application and find out whether the issue is real.
Once you are sure that it is not an application issue and have evidence — only then show them to the customer. Until you have proof, assume that the customer is right. Focus your attention on trying to find the issue in the code rather than trying to prove the customer is wrong.
The attitude of doing thorough troubleshooting based on the customer’s feedback builds trust between the customer and the developer.
4. Be open to feedback
It is very difficult for us to question our own work. We cannot think of new ways to better our code or design because we have already put in the best effort. Our knowledge and imagination limit us from increasing the quality of our delivery.
Hence, having an outside perspective is critical for software developers. Feedbacks provide us the opportunity to understand how we can improve ourselves and enhance our performance.
Many developers see feedback as a fault-finding exercise. They close their mind when someone tries to help them with what they are doing wrong. Not accepting feedback limits the developer’s ability to learn from others’ experiences.
Developers who are good in their field know that it is helpful to ask for feedback proactively. They elicit feedback from their users, from the product owners, from testers, from the manager, and from their peers.
All these people collectively represent a plethora of knowledge and experience. They all can help you understand where you are lacking and what you can do to enhance your skills and grow in your role.
5. Stay relevant
Understand that change is constant. It is crucial to keep pace with the changes to stay relevant as a software developer. One way to keep abreast of the latest and greatest in technology is to subscribe to technical magazines.
Also, take training to learn new stuff about your tech stack. There are a lot of great online courses available. Many companies offer free membership in online education sites for their employees. Find out if your company offers similar facilities and register through them.
A great way to know what is latest in the market and where the industry is heading is by attending conferences.
Nowadays, most of the conferences are going online. People from various sectors come and share their experiences and success stories. These conferences are an excellent place to learn directly from experienced software developers of different companies.
6. Gain domain knowledge
Domain knowledge helps in understanding the business side of your product. It provides visibility into exactly why the customer needs a specific functionality and how it helps their end-users.
With some experience in coding, it is easy to convert the requirement specs into code in your preferred language. But you can only do justice to what you are implementing when you are well aware of the end-to-end functionality.
In my personal experience, I have achieved more in my career due to the in-depth domain knowledge I have acquired than my technical expertise.
Software developers who strive to become architects in the future know that understanding the product is vital for their success. Gaining domain knowledge helps them to consider the requirements holistically and provide innovative solutions.
7. Be part of the solution
I have seen a lot of developers complain about the tools and processes. If their implementation is not correct, they blame the requirements to be not clear. If the code fails during testing, they blame the environment or the data used for the testing.
They find fault in everything around them and blame them as the cause of their poor performance.
Developers who complain all the time do not reflect on their own mistakes. They never learn how to overcome the challenges or grow professionally. Instead, they hold others responsible for staying in the same position for years.
Outstanding software developers aim to be part of the solution and not the problem.
They always focus on overcoming obstacles and finding workarounds to resolve issues. They don’t let the constraints of their work environment hinder their progress.
Therefore, have a positive attitude towards the limitations faced in your workplace. View your problems as challenges and spend energy in finding solutions for them.
Teams and leaders admire developers who are always ready to find a solution instead of cribbing about the issue and doing nothing.
8. Share knowledge
“Sharing knowledge occurs when people are genuinely interested in helping one another develop new capacities for action; it is about creating learning processes.” — Peter Senge
I am a big believer in the process of knowledge sharing. Therefore, I make it a point to conduct at least 25 hours of KT sessions in a year. These sessions include sharing both technical and functional knowledge.
If we want to learn and grow as exceptional software developers, we need to help each other. It is impossible to know everything that is going around in the product or technology all by ourselves.
Sharing helps in gaining knowledge from other’s experiences and mistakes.
Help your teammates understand the functionality that you have worked on previously. Learn something new in your tech stack and conduct KT sessions in your team. Help the testing team understand a new feature that is getting implemented for an upcoming release. Teams thrive on knowledge sharing.
Hence, people will recognize you as someone who knows a lot and is open to sharing. It will make people reciprocate and share knowledge with you. The more you share, the more knowledge you will be able to acquire.
Always remember, knowledge is an essential commodity for professional growth.
9. Find a mentor
A good mentor is crucial to success. Mentors help to learn all the aspects of software development with practical examples from their experience.
Enroll in your company’s mentorship program as a mentee. If your company does not have a program, then find a person whom you respect for their knowledge and request them to become your mentor. You can choose a person whom you trust to guide you in the right direction.
Here are a few stats that might motivate you to have a mentor.
71% of Fortune 500 companies have mentoring programs. And of those with a mentor, 97% say they are valuable.
87% of mentors and mentees feel empowered by their mentoring relationships and have developed greater confidence.
25% of employees who enrolled in a mentoring program had a salary grade change, compared to only 5% of workers who did not participate.
These are just a few advantages of having a mentor. You can find other statistics in the references section of this article.
10. Make connections
Networking as a means of growth is often ignored by developers in their initial years.
However, it is highly required to make connections throughout your career. Your network will help you find a better job opportunity when you are looking for a change.
Even within the company, it helps to make connections with people from different segments or teams. Your contacts will help you get the required visibility inside the company, which is a significant factor in professional growth.
In the last ten years, many people I have worked with within my current company have become managers or architects in their respective teams.
It is now much more convenient for me to discuss and arrive at an enterprise-wide design solution when I work with these architects. If I need to get some work done by a different team, it becomes easier for me due to my connection with the respective team’s manager.
Hence, if you want to stand out among your peers and get noticed in the company — start making meaningful connections.
Here are some fascinating facts about networking that might help you further understand the value of making connections.
Almost 80% of professionals consider professional networking to be important to career success.
70% of people in 2016 were hired at a company where they had a connection.
Everyone wants to be a software developer, but very few know what it actually takes to excel in this field. Try to cultivate the behaviors mentioned in the above points rigorously, and it will propel you to heights in your software development career.
Thanks for reading the article. I wish you all the very best in your professional career.
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